Transcription – Mark Rozell Interview

NELSON:          Did people, in 1960, think that JFK was a person of deep religious faith?

ROZELL:           Well, that’s a good question. I don’t think it mattered as much actually, and in 1960, you know my parents’ generation, right? People could ask them you know, how do you think the Catholics will vote or how will the Protestants vote in this election, how will the Jewish vote, you know all always Democratic, the Catholic vote, always Democratic. You had religious affiliation as an identifier for political party preference for many religious Americans, but by the time of the 2004 election, even before that, [00:42:00] it’s not whether you’re Catholic or Protestant, for example, it’s how religiously observant you are.

And so you asked about the Catholic vote and what happened, John Kerry is the Catholic candidate, first since 1960, he loses the Catholic vote to George W. Bush. Kerry overwhelmingly lost among white, regular churchgoing Catholics. Among those who are most likely to vote on the basis of moral, social issues, he lost, and he lost because his positions on the issues that those voters care about very deeply were wrong. So they will vote for a Methodist who is a proud pro-lifer and is going to support the policies that they believe are morally correct, and not vote for a fellow Catholic who takes the wrong policy positions, it’s that simple.

NELSON:          We will come back to the moral values [00:43:00] item in the exit poll, but while we’re on this line, something you’ve written about, I notice, that whereas one time, in fact as recently as 1960, where white Christian conservatives regarded the Roman Catholic Church as somewhere between awful and demonic.

ROZELL:           Right.

NELSON:          By 2004, before 2004, there’s been an alliance formed between white evangelical Christians and certainly the Roman Catholic hierarchy.

ROZELL:           That’s right.

NELSON:          And, as you say, observant Catholics.

ROZELL:           Yes.

NELSON:          How did that alliance get forged, because it ran so much against the historical relationship between evangelicals and Catholics.

ROZELL:           Yeah, yeah, that’s exactly right, and that, I think is one of the most important transformations that took place in American politics, [00:44:00] that led to the increased influence and power of the religious conservative movement; the ability of evangelical Protestants and Catholics to come together. You know, churchgoing conflicts, I should say, to come together in politics, which they had not been able to do for many years. In one of my earlier books, I trace the story of the deep disconnect between those two groups politically, to the point where, before Roe v. Wade, in some states where there were legislative proposals to restrict abortion rights, you had evangelical Protestants actually opposing these measures that had been introduced by Catholic legislators, because they’re afraid that the Catholic Church influence and power in government, would start to take over. [00:45:00] Can you imagine, even conservative evangelicals going against any anti-abortion rights or pro-life measure today? Of course not.

So, the evangelicals and Catholics coming together, created, I think, a very powerful alliance. There are a number of important leaders in those communities who started getting together and talking with each other about what a powerfully important role they can play in American politics, if they could put aside the question of who’s going to find heaven, and simply focus on common political goals and objectives. They started meeting and meeting, and really talking very openly among their supporters, about the need to do outreach. One of the criticisms of the old Moral Majority, was that they did a terrible job of reaching outside [00:46:00] the Bible Baptist Fellowship and other religious groups that formed sort of the core of the national organization and of its followers, and that many of its leaders had been openly intolerant of Catholics, for example. So, the Christian Coalition, its, I think singular, most important contribution for the religious right movement, was its message that this is an open organization that reaches across different religious groups and invites everyone who supports a pro-life, pro-traditional families agenda. They were very careful to put on their board, people of different religious faiths. Ralph Reed used to brag about this very openly, you know how many Catholics he had in his organization and they had their own [00:47:00] Catholic outreach arm of the Christian Coalition.

I think that was, as you say, an important transformation that took place, that made it possible for religious conservatives who could agree on policy and could agree to support candidates who supported policies they agree with, to work together and become a much more powerful influence in politics, and simply not discuss when they get together, their religious beliefs differences.

NELSON:          I wonder too, what you think about the influence of Pope John Paul II, I guess in two ways. One is because of his staunch anticommunism, he was probably the least objectionable pope to many evangelical Christians in history. But beyond that, he’s appointing the kind of bishops and cardinals in the United States, who frankly gave John Kerry a hard time [00:48:00] in 2004.

ROZELL:           That’s right, yeah that’s exactly right. John Paul II was powerfully important as an influence in bringing together the Catholics and evangelicals in American politics. Not that he was in any way directing that or involved in any way in American politics, but white conservative evangelicals came to adore the Catholic Pope. They referred to him as the evangelical pope, and in some of the evangelical colleges, they started teaching classes on the theology of John Paul II. What an amazing transformation, going back to your earlier question. Can you imagine that, back in 1960, having happened? So, there was an enormous fondness for the Catholic Pope, and I think you’re right, his strong anticommunism of course, the influence that he had, that they believed that he had at least, [00:49:00] in bringing down the old Soviet Union. The fact that he was appointing bishops who were strongly pro-life of course, but also very open about how people in public life have to be consistent in their positions on the life issues. What came to be known at that time, the language that became popular, the non-negotiable issues, that there were certain issues that you simply can’t compromise on in politics. And so evangelicals saw John Paul as someone who, unlike the more progressive Catholics, who might have hoped for a different pope than John Paul II, who may be happy now, right? [00:50:00] That there can be no compromise on these issues. That was a powerful signal, and then as you point out correctly, a number of the American bishops publicly said, for example, “If John Kerry came into my church, I would not let him take communion.” And they advised priests not to let John Kerry, or — and in some cases, even if someone is openly a supporter of John Kerry.

Now, a lot of that backfired, by the way, politically, I should point out, because the vast majority of American Catholics don’t want to be directed in such a fashion, by the bishops, in political campaigns. They feel that’s highly inappropriate. So, I don’t think that’s signaling actually had a big impact in shifting the votes of Catholics in the 2004 election, [00:51:00] but it did create, I think a political problem for John Kerry, as the so-called Catholic candidate and the first since 1960, that there were American bishops who were saying, I wouldn’t even give communion to this guy.